An ongoing question in the creative industries is: should art be acknowledged separately from the artist or should the artist’s beliefs impact the way we view their product?
This controversy has always been subject to debate, from the allegations made against Michael Jackson to David Bowie. This time the conversation came to a head yet again, spearheaded by Harry Potter author JK Rowling. Earlier this month, Rowling shared her views of the transgender community writing “’People who menstruate.’ I’m sure there used to be a word for those people” and proceeding to claim the notion of womanhood is changing. These comments were met with a torrent of criticism by people who said, “her comments were wildly anti-trans and hurtful.”Then came the calls to boycott the writer’s hugely successful young adult series.
‘People who menstruate.’ I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?
Opinion: Creating a more equal post-COVID-19 world for people who menstruate https://t.co/cVpZxG7gaA
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) June 6, 2020
Any artist’s work that becomes as impactful and ingrained in popular culture as Rowling’s did can never be wiped out completely. Millions of children have grown up admiring her characters and finding solace in the fantastical world she created.
However, her comments were irresponsible and dangerous. We need to stop celebrating the artist herself if she chooses to use her platform to disenfranchise minorities. It’s hard to believe that she didn’t realise the massive influence her platform (including 14.5 million Twitter followers) has.
After the hashtags died down and the conversation slowly petered out, another shocking comment took people by surprise. This time, legendary American director Spike Lee took it upon himself to defend disgraced fellow director, Woody Allen, in an interview with New York radio station, WOR 710.
He said: “I’d just like to say Woody Allen is a great, great filmmaker, and this cancel thing is not just Woody.”
He has since apologised for this however, the sexual assault allegations levelled at Allen are incredibly serious. Spike’s comments are not just an endorsement of the work of someone he admires, it’s an endorsement of a man who has allegedly committed sexual assault.
I Deeply Apologize. My Words Were WRONG. I Do Not And Will Not Tolerate Sexual Harassment, Assault Or Violence. Such Treatment Causes Real Damage That Can't Be Minimized.-Truly, Spike Lee.
— Spike Lee (@SpikeLeeJoint) June 13, 2020
When it comes to Allen, the issue of separating his films from his conduct is even more problematic because many of his movies revolve around the relationship between a young woman and an older man, all written by Allen himself. The stories are too inappropriate when viewed through the post ‘Me Too’ lense of cinema, not to mention many of these movies just pander to the male gaze completely.
Last week, The BBC and Netflix made the decision to remove British comedies such as Little Britain and Come Fly With Me for their use of blackface. The streaming company HBO MAX also pulled Gone With the Wind, one of the first technicolour films in Hollywood which is controversial due to its themes of slavery, from their catalogue. These are all examples of the changes being made and the echoing calls of Black Lives Matter protesters who want to extend the conversation about why we continue to celebrate films that contain such outdated portrayals of black people. In the case of Rowling we need to question why we continue to celebrate an author who chooses to target a minority group on her massive platform.
This is an evolving conversation. It’s a conversation which is now finally embracing the voices that wanted the entertainment industry to stop glorifying artists whose art is an inextricable part of their ideologies and views.
The removal of TV shows which use blackface from comedic effect and HBO MAX deciding to acknowledge the cultural context of Gone with the Wind and possibly creating side notes for films with similar portrayal issues is a step towards the right direction. However, it’s too idealistic to assume that films that hold such a significance in history yet are clearly inappropriate in a modern context, such as those made by Woody Allen, will ever be relegated from history.
But that does not mean we should continue to glorify these artists. Their contributions rest in the museum of humanity but it’s high time that we realise art is the direct result of an artists’ emotions, ideologies and views. So, let’s stop celebrating the dangerous ones.